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Bupleurum roots

Chinese: 柴胡

Pinyin: Chái Hú

Parts used: Dried root and rhizome

TCM category: Cool/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): Bitter

Organ affinity: Gallbladder Liver

Scientific name: Bupleurum chinense

Other names: Thorowax

Use of bupleurum roots (Chai Hu) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities, wash, soak in water, cut in thick slices and dry.

Dosage: 3-10 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Harmonizes exterior and interior. Smoothes the Liver and upraises the Yang.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which bupleurum roots may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Common cold Fever Malaria Chest pain Irregular menstruation Uterine prolapse Rectal prolapse

Contraindications*: Not suitable for those whose Liver Qi is already uprising.

Common TCM formulas in which bupleurum roots (Chai Hu) are used*

Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

Source date: Ming dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Liver and Spleen Qi Stagnation. Tonifies Spleen. Clears Deficient Heat. Nourishes the blood.

Conditions targeted*: InfertilityMenorrhagia and others

Chai Hu is a king ingredient in Jia Wei Xiao Yao San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, Chai Hu spreads the Liver Qi, relieves stagnation and helps guide the other herbs into the Liver. Because of its cooling nature, it is also particularly dealing with Qi Stagnation that has started to generate Heat.

Read more about Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Conditions targeted*: HepatitisCholecystitis and others

Chai Hu is a king ingredient in Xiao Yao San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Xiao Yao San, Chai Hu To spreads the Liver Qi, relieves Stagnation and helps guide the other herbs into the Liver. Because of its cooling nature, it is also particularly dealing with Qi Stagnation that has started to generate Heat.

Read more about Xiao Yao San

Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Source date: 1602

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Disperses Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. Alleviates pain. Harmonizes Blood.

Conditions targeted*: HepatitisChronic gastritis and others

Chai Hu is a king ingredient in Chai Hu Shu Gan San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Chai Hu Shu Gan San, Chai Hu enters the Liver and Gallbladder meridians to facilitate the Liver's out thrusting functions by clearing Stagnation.

Read more about Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Treats the Lesser Yang Channels (Gallbladder and Triple Warmer). Regulates the Liver and Spleen functions. Addresses combined Yin-Yang symptoms of External and Internal, Excess and Deficiency, and Hot and Cold.

Conditions targeted*: HepatitisChronic cholecystitis and others

Chai Hu is a king ingredient in Xiao Chai Hu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Xiao Chai Hu Tang, Chai Hu is the most important herb for solving Lesser Yang-Warp disorders in the Chinese materia medica.

Combined with the deputy herb, Baikal skullcap root (Huang Qin), which drains Heat from the Liver and Gallbladder (the Interior aspect of the Lesser Yang-Warp), it vents the pathogenic influence and thereby releases Lesser Yang-Warp disorders.

It also spreads the Liver Qi with an ascending, cooling action (contrary to most cooling herbs, which cause things to descend). This combination thereby clears the Heat without causing it to sink deeper into the body.

Read more about Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Si Ni San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Regulates Liver and Spleen. Eliminates Internal Heat.

Conditions targeted*: CholecystitisCholelithiasis and others

Chai Hu is a king ingredient in Si Ni San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Si Ni San, Chai Hu is able to disperse any kind of Qi Stagnation in the epigastrium, abdomen, Stomach, and Intestines. It is an upward rising herb that enters the Liver.

Read more about Si Ni San

Long Dan Xie Gan Tang

Source date: 1682 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat and Fire from the Liver and Gallbladder. Clears and drains Damp-Heat from the Lower Burner.

Conditions targeted*: FurunclesPurulent otitis and others

Chai Hu is a deputy ingredient in Long Dan Xie Gan Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Long Dan Xie Gan Tang, Chai Hu disperses Heat caused by stagnating Liver and Gallbladder Qi. It also focuses the actions of the formula's other herbs on the Liver and Gallbladder channels.

Read more about Long Dan Xie Gan Tang

Ren Shen Bai Du San

Source date: 1119 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Releases the Exterior. Dispels Wind and Dampness. Augments Qi.

Conditions targeted*: Common coldInfluenza and others

Chai Hu is a deputy ingredient in Ren Shen Bai Du San. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Ren Shen Bai Du San, Chai Hu releases the Exterior, reduces the fever, and expels the pathogenic influences. Together with Wild mint, they are especially useful in releasing pathogenic influences from the muscle layer.

Read more about Ren Shen Bai Du San

Jing Fang Bai Du San

Source date: 1550 AD

Number of ingredients: 13 herbs

Formula key actions: Releases the Exterior. Dispels Wind and Dampness. Augments Qi.

Conditions targeted*: Common coldInfluenza and others

Chai Hu is a deputy ingredient in Jing Fang Bai Du San. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Jing Fang Bai Du San, Chai Hu releases the Exterior, reduces the fever, and expels the pathogenic influences. Together with Wild mint, they are especially useful in releasing pathogenic influences from the muscle layer.

Read more about Jing Fang Bai Du San

Wan Dai Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies the Middle Burner. Removes Dampness. Stops vaginal discharge. Strengthens the Spleen.

Conditions targeted*: PreeclampsiaOtitis media and others

Chai Hu is an assistant ingredient in Wan Dai Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Wan Dai Tang, Chai Hu works with other herbs in tonifying Qi and facilitates rising clear Yang. It also assists Spleen function and balances the downward-moving nature of these herbs that releases Dampness.

Read more about Wan Dai Tang

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates the Blood. Dispels blood Stagnation. Spreads the Liver Qi. Unblocks the channels.

Conditions targeted*: Coronary artery diseaseRheumatic valvular heart disease and others

Chai Hu is an assistant ingredient in Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, Chai Hu smoothes the Liver Qi flow, relieves constraint, and rises the clear Yang.

Together with other assistant herbs, it also expands the chest and supports Qi movement. They eliminates Qi Stagnation in the chest and supports the Qi movement so as to facilitate the Blood circulation. 

Read more about Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic hepatitisArrhythmia and others

Chai Hu is an envoy ingredient in Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang. This means that it directs the formula towards certain area of the body and/or harmonizes the actions of other ingredients.

In Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, Chai Hu smoothes the Liver Qi flow, relieves constraint, and rises the clear Yang.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Xia Ru Yong Quan San

Source date: 1840 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Blood. Increases breast milk supply.

In Xia Ru Yong Quan San, Chai Hu moves Qi and eliminates Stagnation.

Read more about Xia Ru Yong Quan San

Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San

Source date: 2002 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi.

In Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San, Chai Hu spreads the Liver Qi, relieves Stagnation and helps guide the other herbs into the Liver. Because of its cooling nature, it is also particularly dealing with Qi Stagnation that has started to generate Heat.

Read more about Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San

Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Pacifies the Liver. Removes Stagnation. Drains Fire. Unblocks the Meridians.

In Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang, Chai Hu pacifies the Liver, moves Qi and eliminates Stagnation 

Read more about Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang

Key TCM concepts behind bupleurum roots (Chai Hu)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), bupleurum roots are plants that belong to the 'Cool/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior' category. Herbs that release the Exterior aim to to treat the early stages of diseases that affect the upper respiratory tract, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the throat or the skin. TCM believes that External diseases such as colds or allergies can only invade the body if the External environment overwhelms our Wei Qi (the TCM version of the immune system). In order to counteract this invasion Cool/Acrid herbs aim to induce sweating by dilating our capillary pores so that they release more sweat. The belief is that this will expel the disease from the body and stop it from invading further.

As suggested by its category bupleurum roots are plants that are Cool in nature. This means that bupleurum roots tend to help people who have too much 'Heat' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Cold in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Heat in their body are said to either have a Yang Excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition bupleurum roots can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Bupleurum roots also taste Bitter. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like bupleurum roots tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such bupleurum roots are thought to target the Gallbladder and the Liver. Similar to modern medicine, in TCM the Gallbladder stores and releases bile produced by the Liver. It also controls the emotion of decisiveness. The Liver on the other hand is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on bupleurum roots (Chai Hu)

Bupleurum root extracts exhibit evident anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antiviral, anti-allergic, immunoregulation, and neuroregulation activities.1

Integrative medicine that include thorowax root could adjust immune function to display a quick, potent anti-inflammatory and anti-anaphylactic actions in treating chronic urticaria with less adverse reaction and low recurrence rates.2

Sources:

1. Yuan B, Yang R, Ma Y, Zhou S, Zhang X, Liu Y. (2017). A systematic review of the active saikosaponins and extracts isolated from Radix Bupleuri and their applications. Pharm Biol. , 55(1):620-635.

2. Jin CY, Wang DL, Fang ZD. (2008 ). Effect of integrative Chinese and Western medicine in treating chronic urticaria and its impact on interleukin-10 and interleukin-8 in peripheral blood. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. , 28(4):358-60.